Most of us have heard of meningitis, however, not all of us know enough about this potentially fatal condition. Let’s take a simple, clear and concise look at meningitis, the common symptoms, how it is treated and why suspected meningitis should always be viewed as a medical emergency.

What Is Meningitis?

Meningitis is inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord. Bacteria, viruses and other organisms can causemeningitis meningitis.  Viral meningitis is usually less severe, but bacterial meningitis can cause hearing loss, brain damage, other disabilities, and even death.  It’s contagious, potentially transmitted through kissing or sharing close quarters with an infected person.

What Are The Symptoms Of Meningitis?

Symptoms can include:

  • Sudden high fever in addition to the following
  • Difficulty waking or excessive sleepiness
  • Headache with nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling confused or irritable usually
  • Suffering from muscle pain which is severe
  • Severe headache, and/or a stiff neck
  • Feeling bothered by bright lights
  • Seizure
  • Rash which is usually a classic petechial eruption

What is unique about this rash?

A rash related to meningitis will not fade to white when pressed on (like a sunburn).  A clear glass can be firmly pressed against the skin where the rash is present. If the rash remains bright reddish-purple in color emergency medical assistance is required and you should act without delay.

Don’t wait for the rash to appear before getting help, though! If an individual is suffering from some of the symptoms listed above, even when a rash is not present, they should be carefully monitored with medical assistance being sought if the person is getting worse.

How Is Meningitis Treated?

If a person has suspected meningitis, the ER or Urgency Center may carry out a number of tests, after initial examination, to confirm the diagnosis and see whether it is the result of a bacterial or a viral infection.

Tests may include

  • A blood test
  • A lumbar puncture
  • A CT scan

In the event of suspected meningitis, antibiotics may be started immediately, even before the diagnosis is confirmed. This is because bacterial meningitis can be extremely serious and progress rapidly. If tests show that the meningitis was actually caused by a virus rather than bacteria the antibiotics will be stopped.

Other treatments which may be administered include:

  • Intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Supplemental oxygen
  • Intravenous steroids

How Do I Prevent Meningitis?

The best way to prevent this disease is to get one of the two vaccines currently available in the US.  The first dose is recommended at the age of 11 or 12 with a booster at 16 years old.  People between the ages of 16 and 21 and those living in close quarters have an increased risk of contracting meningitis.  Military recruits, travelers or those people living in areas where bacterial meningitis is common are encouraged to receive the vaccine as well.

Don’t share personal items and avoid contact with people who are sick as bacteria found in nose and throat secretions can also spread through coughing and sneezing.   Wash your hands frequently, especially after contact with a sick person or after touching handrails and doorknobs in high traffic areas.  Eat healthy and get plenty of sleep to help maintain a robust immune system.

Why It Meningitis A Medical Emergency?

Meningitis can be fatal. The symptoms can appear quickly and worsen within a short period of time. Successful treatment can be directly related to how quickly the condition is identified and handled by medical professionals.  Should you or someone you love develop the symptoms of meningitis seek care immediately.   If you are in any doubt, contact a medical professional without delay and follow their instructions. In that way, you are in a good position to keep those you care about safe.

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